by Maria Elena Sandovici
Review by Liz Merton
3- To-Be-Read Piles
With a great local feel that captures Galveston, its history, its heartbreaks, its mansions and old money and red-light districts, and its storms, Storms of Malhado offers “the Island’s” fans a tale of three women, three storms, and three histories of love and loss. Anyone could pick the book up and enjoy it, but for those who like a good Galveston ghost tour, for those who’ve heard of the ruin of The Great Storm of 1900, of Hurricane Carla in 1961, and of Hurricane Ike in 2008, the book offers something more.
Sandovici’s artistic vocation breathes extra life into her heroines’ dreams, and her passion for this beautiful, storm-blighted region rings deep and true. In places, the writing feels something like “unpolished” (there’s a lot of “bereft” around), and periods (and I don’t mean the punctuation mark) get mentioned often, but Storms of Malhado has that nice local-author, local-book feel that breaks up the hegemony of mass-appeal fiction in a to-be-read stack.
An Unreasonable Woman: A True Story of Shrimpers, Politicos, Polluters, and the Fight for Seadrift, Texas
by Diane Wilson
Review by Liz Merton
3 To-Be-Read Piles
Good reviews from Rick Bass and from the Christian Science Monitor, and finding this book at the fantastic Galveston Bookshop, made me dig into this story. An account of Diane Wilson’s journey from shrimper to environmental activist, the work features colloquial prose (perhaps to a fault in places), deep exploration of environmental issues on the Texas Gulf Coast, and an “unredacted” presentation of the struggles Wilson (and those with whom she was involved) faced in the 1990s and early 2000s in exposing environmental abuses by Formosa Plastics. (Wilson continues to fight the company and advocate for environmental causes.)
Not being a huge Netflix person, I can’t personally confirm this statement, but I’m told that Wilson’s story appears as part of Dirty Money on Netflix.
While I’d recommended that people living on the Texas Coast check out the book, and while I appreciate Wilson’s open, unvarnished approach (she relates her lawyer’s burnout; tension between those with whom she worked; the crush of putting herself fully on the line with a hunger strike), I did feel the vernacular of this first-person narrative sometimes wearied me. For readers up for hardcore Coastal Bend prose, though, the book ticks boxes for environmentalism, feminism, and the -ism of passionate commitment to a cause.
Review by Rose Plum
In this young-adult urban fantasy series, creatives literally see the world differently than everyone else.
The author weaves art, music, and poetry (especially John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost) into the plot and character experiences. In the story, artists not only create art, but appreciate it, comment on it, and use it to make sense of their world. They need it more than normal too, because these artists are the only ones who see and fight the evil monsters waging war on humanity and creativity.
The main character, Cera, learns about this hidden reality after having a disturbing vision and failing to save a neighbor girl from being killed by a monster. After that, she wants nothing more than to destroy the monsters and save lives. She’s not alone—there are others like her fighting this war. But as she learns about this underground society and the monsters they fight, she finds many barriers to her goal, and she may even be adding to her friends’ danger.
This intriguing story pulled me in from the beginning and was very fun to read. The characters are relatable and have complicated relationships with each other that keep the interactions interesting throughout the book. And I love the role art plays in story world. I definitely want to read more.
This is Book 1 of The Colliding Line series. It definitely feels like an introduction to a series: not fully satisfying on its own because it’s only the beginning of a larger narrative. However, with how well this first book read, I trust that upcoming installments will not disappoint. Book 2 is not published at the time of this review, but I’ll be watching for it!
Four to-be-read piles out of five.
The Life and Death of a Modern Hawaiian Warrior
by Mark Panek
Review by Sage Webb
Let's start here: I'm glad I read this book. My undergrad degree is from Hawaii, and in law school, I did an internship out there for a summer. So I've spent a little bit of time in the islands. But Panek's exploration of the life and death of sumo contender Percy Kipapa gave me a new appreciation for the social struggles that continue to plague the land of aloha.
Panek, an English professor at the University of Hawii at Hilo, introduces readers to Percy Kipapa, a young man who sounds like he lived the aloha spirit and ventured to Japan to try to become a sumo star after a childhood in a rural district of Oahu. Sadly, injuries ended Kipapa's sumo career, and a return to the island sent him spiraling back into a world of meth abuse and violence that ultimately left him a victim of murder.
In digging into issues of land development, urban planning, politics, and corruption, Panek links some of Hawaii's specific social struggles (drug abuse, economic issues, residential displacement) to land grabs and foreign economic control. He draws a connection between failed drug policies, aimed at marijuana, and the rise of meth. While Panek's relationship with Kipapa and his family undermines a truly objective analysis of the events at the heart of the book, this relationship also lends the work a certain authenticity.
On the coming-up-short side of the equation, Panek strives to capture in dialogue local colloquialisms, "sumo speak," and word-for-word repetition of transcribed conversations. For me, these efforts worked great in small doses, but over the long haul, they inhibited a bit of the book's flow. The writing also lacks some of the zest and cohesion of big nonfiction titles like Empire of the Summer Moon, which explores the fall of the Comanches in a package that wraps up great organization of multiple themes with vivid descriptions and excellent pacing. On the objectivity issue, Panek's bias toward the prosecution during the murder trial comes across as completely understandable but (at least to this defense attorney) not always objectively grounded (in terms of things like critiquing strategy and presentation).
For anyone interested in Hawaii, drug policy, criminal justice, or social justice, Big Happiness should probably be on the reading list.
Three-plus or four-minus to-be-read piles!
Big Happiness has a 2011 copyright date and 2012 publication date (listed on Amazon).
(Disclaimer: three Read Local (R) reviewers spent time at UHH, and one enjoyed a class with Panek, so Read Local (R) favors the Vulcans.)
by Quentin S. Crisp
Review by Red Velvette
If you are looking for a wandering (perhaps meandering) story to read on the beach or on a plane, Blue on Blue by Quentin S. Crisp provides good mental floss. Crisp uses beautiful vocabulary and lovely imagery to tell a rambling story of an artist and his muse. Throw in some teleportation, sea monkeys, and an alternate universe, and you have a quick, quirky read.
Set in an alternate 1950s, the story follows cartoonist Vincent as he creates his ideal pin-up girl (who is, of course, a redhead) on paper; and then suddenly, he meets her match in a real-live woman. When I first picked up this book, I thought this would be a re-telling of the story of Pygmalion and Galatea, but no. Blue on Blue is something else entirely. Crisp writes a sprawling tale of love found and lost. He seems to write for the pure enjoyment of writing, without too much care to develop the characters or move the storyline forward. While the writing showcases the richness of the English language, the author tends to wander from tangent to tangent. Fine literature this is not, but it’s an odd-ball story that offers some escapism for the reader. If you need something to distract you while waiting out what I have dubbed The Autumn of the COVID, this is an unusual read worth a glance.
(We didn't place a "rating" on this selection because it kind of falls outside the usual rubrics. Ratings are, of course, subjective, and this book is a little quirkier than average.)